Dear Athens, Ohio

Last weekend I went for a run around Athens. I started out on the bike path and had only planned to run for twenty minutes, tops. After my knee started aching, I walked. My new plan was to head up to The Ridges, an old insane asylum in town that’s been converted to nature reserves, hiking paths, an art museum and other university buildings. There’s a spot on one of the paths known as Radar Hill that has some great views, so I wanted to head up there one last time in case I didn’t make it up again before I left town.

I got a sudden burst of energy at the bottom of one of the hills to the path, so I started to run up. I watched the uneven Athens bricks beneath my feet pass by, and I wasn’t really paying attention to more than the music coming from my earbuds, but then I realized a girl was running down the hill and was trying to stop me. I obliged with a big “Hi!” because at first I wasn’t sure if I knew her from somewhere. I didn’t, but she continued to tell me that there’d been an accident up there so it probably wasn’t a good idea to go up. Then she asked if I wanted to run with her  if I was headed toward Radar Hill. Even though I knew it might hurt my knee, I agreed.

For the next forty-five minutes, I ran with a complete stranger who by the end of the run felt to me like someone I’d met multiple times before. We didn’t just share the running bond, we shared Bobcat and Athens bonds as well. As I talked to the girl, it was clear to me that she loved Athens. That came as no surprise to me, because I love Athens, too. There’s a feeling here that really can’t be put into words, but that day I knew I’d come as close to seeing what Athens meant to someone as I ever would. It was truly an Athens experience: completely random, and completely wonderful.

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When Athens gets into someone’s soul, you can see it in their eyes and the way they can’t help but smile when they talk about it. Athens is more than just the Ohio University community, although that is one of the many reasons I feel a strong connection to this place. Athens is like a little Appalachian bubble. Outside of town and nearby parks, there’s not much around. There have been countless moments when I’ve felt aggravated with that bubble, wanting to get out of it in any way possible. But I always wanted to come back, and until now, I always knew I would be coming back.

On Saturday, I’m saying goodbye to Athens for right now. I don’t know when I’ll be coming back. I don’t know what campus will look like the next time I see it. I’ll never live in my little apartment again. But even though there’s a lot of “if’s” surrounding my life right now, I can’t deny that this place has truly become a part of me.

I just want to thank the girl I ran with for reminding me of that.

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13 comments

  1. As much as I complain about my hometown, I have to admit that I’m always happy to see it after I’ve been away for a while. I was born here, went to school here, and bought my first place here. heather or not I’ll stay here for ever remains to be seen, but it’ll always be home. My only complaint is that it’s getting a little too big for my tastes.

  2. I’m going to cry. This is so sweet and what a nice girl! This is making me miss PPU even though it too was kind of like a bubble (even though it’s in the city… a different kind of bubble I suppose).

  3. That us such a cute story! I have been to Athens once and it has such a little charm to it 🙂 I’m sure whenever you get to go back and visit the charm will still be there!

  4. Love this… reminds me of my last few days in Morgantown, which somehow, are the most memorable of all. We’ll have to go down this summer and eat at Black Bear, hike Cooper’s Rock, drive by my old apartment…

  5. Reading this made me smile so big. It’s so easy to become familiar and jaded when we live in a place for a long time – it’s always nice to be reminded of the awesome of where you are 🙂

  6. I love this. It reminds me of my own feelings about leaving school right now. It’s nice to go out on a positive note and I’m glad you got to meet someone knew that made you think a bit 🙂

  7. Oh girl, I really feel for you on this one. Funny thing is that you likely will go back – maybe for homecoming or maybe for something else – and when you’re there, you’ll realize just how much you’ve changed, and it’s changed, but it’ll still feel somewhat like home. When I went back to my alma mater a couple of months ago, that’s how I felt. And it was kinda nice to see how far I’d come. Hugs.

  8. Ang! This was so beautifully written. I know you probably want to stop time right now but just let it happen and get ready for a seriously crazy ride. Or at least a ride up north because once you arrive you will see the crazy that is my life.

    And don’t you worry, you will be back in Athens many many times and each time you will realize how far you’ve come. It’s nostalgic but also encouraging about the future all at the same time! I’ll be back at McGill for the billionth time in a few weeks. I have Curt to thank for graduating two years after me but it’s always nice to go back, albeit different every time!

  9. I too share a love of my hometown Ithaca, NY. I miss it when I leave, but being away at school makes me appreciate it more when I get home. The first week I get back I am almost a “tourist” in my own town trying all the new places that have sprung up since I got back. Athens sounds beautiful. It’s wonderful to hear your passion through your posts.

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